Who is the Enemy? If the enemy is defined as solely al-Qaida this allows a policy of treating all other Islamists—even the Afghan Taliban!—as a potential friend. Both Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, explained that leading elements of the Taliban, a group complicit in the September 11 attacks, could be won over. Certainly, the Muslim Brotherhood—the world’s largest and most powerful international anti-American organization—was helped and treated as a potential ally.
Al-Qaida, however, is a relatively weak organization, capable of staging only sporadic terror attacks, with the exception perhaps of remote Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan. It cannot take over whole countries. The fact that Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Turkey, and perhaps soon Syria are governed by Islamists is a far greater strategic threat.
Then why couldn’t the Obama Administration have said that the consulate was attacked by evil al-Qaida for no reason other than its lust to murder Americans, with the perfect symbolism of the attack having been staged on September 11?
There was a dual problem. First, the group involved was one the U.S. government had worked with during the Libyan civil war so it could not admit they were close to al-Qaida. Second, the official line was that al-Qaida had been defeated so it could not still be a threat. Therefore, an alternative narrative and a cover-up were needed.
Competence and Courage
Once upon a time a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination warned that if Obama was elected president he would not be reliable in a crisis, answering a 3 AM phone call requiring instant response. That claim, of course, came from Hillary Clinton. Benghazi was that phone call.
That conclusion is reinforced by the killing of al-Qaida leader Usama bin Ladin. Notice something of huge importance that has been neglected. Obama and his supporters bragged about his indecision on the no-brainer of getting the architect of the September 11 attacks. If he would hesitate on an obvious call like that one, how would he deal with a consulate under attack in Benghazi?
There is, or should be, a sacred trust between the U.S. government and those who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of America. Everything should be done to protect and save them. In this case, however, the country’s leaders let those people down both before and during the crisis.
Note, too, how unintentionally revealingly Obama responded to this issue in the presidential debate. Once the crisis was over, Obama said, he swung into action, securing those who still survived, investigating who was responsible, and promising to punish them.
What about before and during the multi-hour assault? Silence. The details–for example, whether or not there was a drone overhead–obscure the fact that no proper preparations were made for the ambassador and consulate being unprotected and that passivity prevailed during the battle.
If the U.S. government didn’t trust the Libyans wouldn’t that show that America thought itself superior and its interests to override those of others? And isn’t that racist?
One could say that the Obama Administration’s failure to act denotes incompetence, and there is truth there. But the larger picture is that it was a failure due to its concept of America and the world. The real danger is not from totalitarian enemies grown bolder in the fact of American weakness and a loss of self-confidence. No, according to the prevailing view, it was rather excessive American self-confidence and strength in the past.
The effort to change those bad old ways, to open a new era with completely different behavior, the failure to perceive the real enemies and to understand America’s rights and duties were the causes of the incident in Benghazi, and many other setbacks as well.
The chickens have come back to roost and have roosted in the White House. And the vultures are gathering.
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About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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